Well, it is about that time. I’m sure you all are anxious to see what this year’s waterfowl season has in store. I know I am. As we
await the opener, my mind wanders and I begin to think about the number of birds produced this summer… in the northern prairies, but also right here in own our backyard.
This spring, I wrote about the Mingo Basin’s two breeding waterfowl species and what we’ve learned about their biology through banding efforts (see Brother from a Different Mother
). Well, since we are thinking about Duck Creek and waterfowl, I thought I’d tell you about this summer’s waterfowl banding effort on Duck Creek.
Peter Blums has been heading up the Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser banding at Gaylord Lab and now Duck Creek over the past 15 years. Through his work Peter has collected a valuable dataset that can be used to understand better the breeding ecology and population dynamics of these two local species.
During the 2010 nesting season, Peter monitored 94 nest boxes on Duck Creek. Wood ducks made 67 nest attempts and laid a total of 1,030 eggs. Out of these, 651 ducklings hatched and exited the nest box; 550 of these birds were fitted with specialized leg bands (oval stainless steel bands, lined with clay to allow the birds to grow into them). This year the proportion of laid eggs that produced ducklings (63 percent), as well as the overall nest success (73 percent), was higher than the long-term average.
The higher percentage of success for Wood Ducks can be explained by elimination of predation by raccoons, which was exceptionally high in 2009. New predator guards below the nest boxes, especially those using PVC pipes, worked very well at keeping the raccoons out this year. However, a total of 12 nests (18 percent) were abandoned; some part of this loss can be attributed to persistent unsuccessful attempts of raccoons to climb boxes. Although no predator guards can prevent black rat snakes from entering boxes, only four nests (6 percent) were depredated by these snakes. In addition, two nests (3 percent) were lost to birds pecking holes in the eggs, most likely northern flickers or red-headed woodpeckers.
Hooded mergansers made 24 nest attempts and laid a total of 334 eggs. Seventy-one percent of these eggs hatched, producing 242 ducklings that left the nest boxes; of these, 226 ducklings were banded. For Hooded Mergansers the nest success was similar to the 15-year average (74 percent). Only one (4 percent) merganser nest was depredated and five (21 percent) abandoned for unknown reasons.
On average the nest boxes produced 9.5 ducklings in 2010 (8.6 in 2009). Many boxes received more than one nest attempt and several boxes produced two successful broods. For example, a nest box located at Pool 2 (# E87) produced a total of 26 ducklings (12 mergansers and 14 wood ducks) during the 2010 breeding season. To enhance repeated box use old nesting material (including egg membranes and shells) was removed, boxes were cleaned and fresh bedding was added as soon as ducklings exited.
Overall, it was a good summer, with 893 ducklings (Hoodies and Woodies combined) leaving the monitored boxes, which was higher than the long-term average (844) at Duck Creek CA. Over the past 15 years the number of Hooded Mergansers using the nest boxes has increased. The number of little Hoodies produced in 2010 was highest recorded.
As fall arrives and birds descend upon the basin, who knows, maybe you’ll be able to contribute to science this year by shooting a banded bird and calling it in (1-800-327-BAND) or report it online (http://www.reportband.gov/
). Maybe it will be a home-grown local bird, or perhaps it will just be one of the many seasonal commuters that fly through Duck Creek each fall. These banding efforts and reports of “recaptures” help biologists track the distribution and size of our waterfowl populations, which in turn help inform our management decisions for these populations. If you want to build your own wood duck box and set it up on a wooded slough or pond, click here
for more directions.
A special thanks to Anthony Maupin for his pictures of the work.